Giuseppe Barranca, one of Kitchener’s Vita Lounge and Bistro partners, has never experienced a pre-pandemic “normal” at his restaurant, which opened about a year ago.
Security precautions and lockdown protocols are part of their regular business model, according to Barranca.
“We have never been able to provide all of our experience in the design and atmosphere as well as in the food here. Instead, our number one concern is the safety of our customers and my staff,” said he declared.
With this reopening, Barranca hopes things will be different: the restaurant has an indoor dining area, a large patio covered by an open tent, and an uncovered patio for guests to choose from.
“With the reopening after this lockdown, we have spent weeks preparing protocols to keep everyone safe,” he said.
Vita will focus on indoor meals, which obviously don’t have to cope with the vagaries of the weather.
Barranca adds that in this first week everyone is happy to be able to eat inside again.
“It has been a positive experience with customers and staff. We have not encountered any resistance,” he said.
Working at the front desk at Vita, Luca Galati is equally positive.
“We’re all excited about the new opening. We’ve had plenty of time to prepare, and it’s exciting to see a lot of people having fun inside and out,” said Galati.
In New Hamburg, Scran and Dram Scottish Public House had a large number of patrons on their large terraces – weather is the main driver – with a few guest tables inside, for which the transition was relatively easy, according to the director Ryan Horne. .
“This is our third reopening, so it’s just a matter of cleaning and polishing and rearranging. Measuring tables and moving everything apart and making sure everything is in line. In reality, it’s a pretty smooth transition for us. Horne said, noting that while the capacity inside is 160 people, the dining area has been significantly reduced to meet distancing requirements.
The first few days did not see a significant increase in the number of people wanting to be indoors, Horne said.
“I think people are still hesitant or just want to see a bit of how things are going. There are a lot of faces that we haven’t seen in a while, that they don’t like the heat outside. or that they are waiting to feel more secure, “he said.
The swift announcement of the indoor dining rooms reopening means extra work for the waiters, says Devon Campbell, who runs White Rabbit bar operations in downtown Waterloo.
“It’s mentally exhausting having to do it again each time, but even more so because there are different guidelines to follow each time,” said Campbell.
“It’s not like what we did last time around. There’s a whole new set of guidelines, there’s a whole new stage, there’s a whole new color.”
“There is a lot of anxiety”
While Campbell, Horne and other waiters have reported anger and rudeness from a few customers over the demands, the first week of reopening has been largely civil.
“There’s a lot of anxiety out there and there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going on,” Horne said.
“We’ve seen a lot of people who are very sympathetic to what’s going on and there are a few more who really don’t care.”
Campbell, for her part, said she detected a slightly different tone – what she calls “the state of mind of the people” – in some customers: she attributes this to the frustration caused by many months of lockdowns. and isolation.
“People have been locked up for so long and been through so long that there are a lot of widespread mental health issues that I and my staff have to deal with,” Campbell said.
“It’s actually a little more terrifying at times than the actual security of COVID. The level of aggression is a little higher just because of what the country and the world have been through.”
What has kept the situation under control as the bar prepares to reopen is adherence to protocols, she said.
“We are really good at staying on top of our safety procedures. When we follow the guidelines, the staff feel safe,” she said.
Galati at Vita is cautious as a front line staff member about worker safety.
“I’m a little worried. But we are really pushing the regulations on mask maintenance and hand sanitization. We want everyone to feel comfortable showing everyone that we are comfortable with it. regulations, ”he said.
Another indication of a possible new normal is that for all three locations, take-out sales continue to be strong, marking a slight shift in the way customers choose to support local restaurants and go the distance.
Horne said the community has rallied around Scran and Dram.
“We’ve had tremendous support from the community and from record sales. In the five years we’ve been here we’ve never seen numbers like the ones we’re reaching now. We expect to go above and beyond. this, ”Horne said.
It’s the same at White Rabbit, a popular late-night spot that, before the pandemic, packed guests in the tiny restaurant and bar. Campbell said the number of take out is certainly not declining.
“Our take out program is still booming. It is very strong compared to what it was after reopening last time,” she said.
“I feel like a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable eating inside or out just don’t go out.”
‘Be kind. Be patient’
When it comes to changing normality, servers at all levels have the same message for customers, although we’ve been here before: it’s about respect.
“Relax, kick back and have a good time, but remember your manners and be kind. Be patient,” Horne said. “It’s a different time for everyone.”
For Campbell, coming back to the inside dining room isn’t like flipping a switch, and she encourages patience in those first days after a long time away from indoor meals.
“The normality of what we did in this job has changed and people don’t have a practice anymore,” she said.
“Just be patient with your waiters and bartenders. They are in charge of much more than what this job was before, ensuring that protocols and security measures are followed every minute of every customer’s experience. People forget how many plates there are on these servers. “